Study Guide

Electra Duty

By Sophocles


while we,
As Phoebus ordered, with luxuriant locks
Shorn from our brows, and fair libations, crown
My father's sepulcher (50-3)

Orestes is as careful as his sister in adhering to his sense of duty.

Awaiting him I endlessly endure;
Unwed and childless still I go,
With tears in constant flow (164-5)

Just as Orestes's entire existence has been aimed toward vengeance, so has Electra's entire life has been directed toward mourning.

Let me have silence from your lips, I pray;
For should my mother know of it, sharp pain
Will follow yet my bold adventurous feat. (469-70)

Chrysothemis is bold only when she can act without fear of retribution.

Hadst thou the right to slay him? What high law
Ordaining? Look to it, in establishing
Such precedent thou dost not lay in store
Repentance for thyself. For if by right
One die for one, thou first wilt be destroyed
If Justice find thee. (577-582)

And by the same reasoning, Electra and Orestes will be the next condemned to die in the name of justice. That's the problem with a "blood for blood" mentality.

Tell me, I pray, what cause thou dost uphold
In doing now the basest deed of all,
Chambered with the blood-guilty, with whose aid
Thou slewest our father in that day. (591-4)

Electra takes issue not only with the murder, but also with Clytemnestra's relationship to Aegisthus. According to Electra, the Queen has betrayed Agamemnon on several levels.

Let them destroy me; for to take my life
Were kindness, and to live is only pain:
Life hath not kindled my desires with joy. (820-2)

Orestes has neglected his duty to his family by failing to inform Electra of his plan.

To help thy sister boldly to destroy
The guilty author of our father's death,
Aegisthus. – (955-957)

Would Electra really have really gone through with her plan to murder Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had Orestes not shown up and taken care of business? If she had, what would have been different with a woman seeking vengeance, instead of a man?

The well-born cannot bear to live in shame. (989)

Electra's duty is to her noble name and blood as much as it is to her dead father.

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